SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - World Cup debutants Panama played down expectations on Sunday, with coach Hernan Gomez admitting they are definitely not favourites to beat Belgium in their opening game.
Getting even a draw appears a tall order for a team who scraped into their first World Cup finals on the last day of qualifying, winning three of their 10 games.
“We’re not favourites but if we have a good day we can do something good, anything can happen,” Gomez told reporters ahead of Monday’s Group G match in Sochi.
“Belgium are true candidates so we are delighted to be able to face them. We’d be very proud if we can get a good result tomorrow.”
Scoring goals has been a problem for the Central American side, who finished the qualifiers with a negative goal difference and have netted only once in their last six games.
“Panama is not a top goal scoring team,” Gomez said. “Perhaps we lack that final finishing touch and we do perhaps have some issues in that.
“There are alternatives to try and change that situation to try and score more goals. We have worked on team play and we are trying to reduce the number of chances for our rivals. We want to build up well, using triangles but not a No. 10 and advance in groups.”
The wily Gomes, who led Ecuador at the 2002 World Cup, named his side for the Belgium game, with Blas Perez, the man who got the goal that secured qualification, leading the line in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Panama are in Group G alongside Belgium, England and Tunisia.
Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond